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Will Lunt purchase cost Greenfield?

Caveat emptor.

In Latin, it means “let the buyer beware,” two words that the town of Greenfield may soon become very familiar with, now that the Greenfield Town Council has pulled the trigger on a $1.5 million purchase of the former Lunt Silversmith’s property on Federal Street.

“We need to slow down the tax burden on our citizens, and by being aggressive on the Lunt property, is something that, within two of three years, we’ll see that we made a great decision,” Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin said.

He’d better hope so, because, like it or not, that former industrial-commercial site on Federal Street is now Martin’s legacy. If it goes bad, that’s what everyone is going to be talking about long after he leaves office — which might happen sooner than he might like, if public consternation over this issue continues to ramp up the way it has since the council voted to table Martin’s original funding request.

One person more than happy to fan those flames of discontent is At-Large Councilor Dalton Athey, who’s never had a problem identifying and exploiting potential wedge issues. Athey was the lone vote against the appropriation after receiving what he believed was a somewhat evasive answer from Martin and Town Economic Development Director Robert Pyers regarding the much-vaunted “covenant not to sue,” and whether it would or would not be part of the final purchase-and-sale agreement.

“I asked a question whether we would go forward without the covenant, and had I received a straight yes or no, I would have supported the project,” Athey said. “But we didn’t get it, so I can’t support it.”

Some people will be quick to dismiss Athey’s tactics as more political grandstanding, but it’s also a pretty important question, especially when you consider that the town really has no idea what is lurking beneath the floors of that former factory, that was in operation long before many of the environmental regulations that will guide the town’s cleanup efforts.

The covenant deals with potential lawsuits related to off-site contamination, that was not been detected in the initial testing. And while Pyers eventually made it clear that it would be part of the final agreement, the exchange was enough to position Athey, once again, as the champion and defender of the disgruntled Greenfield taxpayers who see this not as an economic development opportunity, but a financial boondoggle, one the town should avoid.

Others, however, feel the risk is worth it because of the three youth league baseball diamonds at the rear of the property, that provided Martin with a lot of sentimental political cover as he worked to sell the idea of this purchase both to the public and the council. And while the preservation of those fields remains a centerpiece to the redevelopment plan, there are still a few unanswered questions, including the town’s real long-term plans for the site.

Martin has said that the land will remain for use as baseball fields, but also for “other” recreational uses. Given the relatively small size of that parcel, this likely means that one of those diamonds may go the way of the dinosaur.

Another larger question, is what may be lurking beneath that sacred recreational ground.

“As I understand it, before there were baseball fields there, it was post World War II row housing,” Ed Peramba, a former Greenfield Police detective, said. “Who knows what might be under there?”

Peramba is one of only a handful of residents who tried to raise these questions before the final council vote. Another is former Forest Avenue resident Teresa Conti, who worked the phones before both votes trying to get councilors to reconsider exactly what they may be getting the town into with this purchase.

“I remember the barrels, some of which sat there without lids at the rear of the property,” Conti said. “I remember the development of Lunt 3 ... I pay attention to details and watch the environment, and I remember when it would rain and the color of the runoff when it would come off the building into the sewer drains.” She went on to say that she has a hard time believing that there isn’t some contamination there now.

We’ll know soon enough, because before long, the taxpayers of Greenfield will own that property and all that comes with it, both politically and environmentally.

Caveat emptor, indeed.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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